This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Glass is Half Full Response to New UN Population Projections

The new set of UN population projections has received a lot of media attention, as I noted recently--and that's a good thing. Now, to be honest, my own reaction to each new set of UN projections is to see what they might say about future policy issues in the world. In other words, are we going to be OK? So, it was in some ways a bit refreshing to see a nicely nuanced very positive approach to the projections from Robin Harding at the Financial Times. Her basic message is that there is money to be made by businesses that adapt to the changing demographics. Focusing largely on the decline in birth rates, she argues that:
For business, that will mean a huge demographic dividend, as working age populations with spare cash swell in these countries.

But it also means the seemingly inexhaustible pool of cheap global labour actually has an end in sight. Countries with falling populations will soon be common. Companies will have to learn to navigate these declining markets. 
Finally, the end of population growth almost everywhere else will make Africa a hugely tempting market and manufacturing centre. More than that, however, lower fertility opens the prospect of truly tackling extreme poverty, with the chance of an accelerator effect as falling fertility elsewhere frees up resources to help the poorest.
My only complaint about this article is its title: "The End of the Malthusian Nightmare:  Falling fertility opens a new stage in human history, with greater control of our destiny." To be fair, we are not yet sure that we will be able to sustain 9-10 billion people indefinitely. When we get to that point, the "nightmare" will be over. And, it isn't exactly that falling fertility increases our control of destiny--it is really quite the opposite: gaining control of our destiny (as we have been doing over the past 200 years) is why fertility is falling.


  1. My impression is that the places and populations that produce technological innovations that permit more people to be fed are the populations that are or will soon be in decline. As those populations decline and vanish won't their technological prowess go with them? I mean, isn't it possible that there could be a net decline in scientific knowledge and skill and unskilled and uneducated numbers grow while the educated continue to breed at numbers beneath replacement? One response is to say that the uneducated will become educated. But I suspect there is a tipping point somewhere, some point at which the educated are so outnumbered by those without education that the net result is a loss of knowledge and skill. We have seen this happen in the past and I don't see why it can't happen again. I would be curious to hear your thoughts on this question, which as far as I can tell, no one is asking.

    1. Yes, this is a scary thought that most of us tend to ignore. You may recall that there are those in the US who think we should not be paying to educate the children of undocumented immigrants. That's crazy!! And, of course, governments of many developing countries are not helping out with good state-sponsored schools, as the Economist pointed out a couple of weeks ago:

    2. What I think Abu Daoud means but is too polite to say is that certain populations are far more able to achieve technology and other aspects of advanced society than other groups. This is manifestly true and yet it is a theological heresy in many circles.

      Abu Daoud is clearly correct. Civilization is presently in considerable decline. IQ, being substantially hereditary, is almost certainly plummeting globally as those groups that average on the lower end are far more fertile. The Flynn effect provided a boost, but that boost is now in the past almost everywhere.

      One without innately (genetically) high intelligence can often contribute, but almost certainly cannot be a rocket scientist or CEO.

      "Yes, this is a scary thought that most of us tend to ignore. You may recall that there are those in the US who think we should not be paying to educate the children of undocumented immigrants. That's crazy!! "

      One can spend a fortune on educating these children, but that does not solve the problem. Where I live in Montgomery County, Maryland, the demographic shift is causing a sharp decline in student test scores. The school system has been known as one of the nation's top systems. Superintendent Joshua Starr was fired, but the decline was not his fault.

  2. As I understand, the UN mid-range forecast to 2100 is for a population of 11.2 billion. Launching these forecasts, the UN said: “The concentration of population growth in the poorest countries will make it harder for those governments to eradicate poverty and inequality, combat hunger and malnutrition, expand education enrolment and health systems, improve the provisions of basic services and implement other elements of a sustainable development agenda..." The realworld logistics of dealing with forecast population growth in Africa are profoundly daunting. Whilst it is good to see newspapers like the FT discussing the issues of population and demography, personally I found some of the content in the article you mention quite naive.